Imber and Zangwill
To the Editor:
I found Gerard H. Wilk’s article, “The Bohemian Who Wrote ‘Hatikvah,’” in the January COMMENTARY, most interesting. Imber was such a character as S. Baring-Gould would have delighted in.
It is natural, of course, that Imber’s friends should try to protect him, and it is not at all to Mr. Wilk’s discredit that he has inherited (for he did not know his subject personally) this partisanship. Nevertheless, a certain amount of by-passing and glossing over of material has led him to an unworthy denigration of better and greater men than Imber, such as the English scholar and writer Joseph Jacobs and the American jurist, the kindly and cultured Mayer Sulzberger, and particularly to his sneers at a man who has not yet, twenty-four years after his death, been succeeded or superseded by any other Jewish writer, the brilliant, many-faceted Israel Zangwill. Opinions are not arguable, but facts are, and Mr. Wilk’s prejudices in behalf of his subject have led him to some egregious errors of fact. On page 54 he mentions that when Imber arrived in “London on the threshold of the 1890′s” (the date of Imber’s arrival was 1888) the “fastidious and sophisticated readers of Pall Mall Magazine” were reading the columns of “twenty-five-year-old” Israel Zangwill (born 1864). The implication that Zangwill was already established in the literary world when he met Imber is untrue. Zangwill had resigned from a position as teacher only a few years earlier and, when he met Imber, had published only The Premier and the Painter, a collaboration with Lewis Cowen. His success with Children of the Ghetto did not occur until 1892. Moreover his column “Without Prejudice” could hardly have predated the existence of Pall Mall Magazine whose publication did not begin until 1893. Also, Zangwill was not the editor of the Jewish Standard, as Mr. Wilk implies by writing that Zangwill “invited him [Imber] to write for his Jewish Standard,” but a contributor under the pseudonym “Marshalik.” The Jewish Standard was edited by Harry S. Lewis. It is obvious, therefore, that Zangwill, still struggling for recognition and fame, was hardly the “wealthy young Londoner,” to quote Mr. Wilk, who could go on indefinitely subsidizing the leeching Imber. . . .
Mr. Wilk also remarks in triumph that Imber’s songs are on the lips of a nation while “Zangwill’s books are gathering dust on library shelves.” So, alas, are the works of Milton and Shakespeare, Dickens and Thackeray, and countless other writers with whom, we trust, Mr. Wilk does not intend to compare Imber. Francis Scott Key wrote the words of “The Star Spangled Banner” and few today read Whitman and Lowell and Emerson, nevertheless he would be bold indeed who championed Key as a poet against any of these. . . . Israel Abrahams’ dispassionate appraisal of “Hatikvah” as poetry and as popular song is nearer to the mark than Mr. Wilk’s exaggeration of its worth.
Rose Rosensohn Jacobs
East Orange, New Jersey